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Hugh Grant Is Veddy Veddy Busy : The 33-year-old actor may or may not be the next great British romantic leading man--remember Cary?--but he's working on it with three new films, including 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'

March 06, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN | Chris Willman is a frequent contributor to Calendar

A British leading man who has the fair features to turn young girls' and aging matrons' knees wobbly; the graceful, spot-on diction that suggests breeding commensurate with beauty; the urbane quick-wittedness that cements the intellectual desirability . . .

. . . but who also, all-importantly, counterbalances all that perfection with a nervous self-deprecation, or befuddlement even, that makes him a dashing yet daffy Everyman, unthreateningly endearing to even the least secure heterosexual male.

Sounds like a Grant, all right.

Mention to Hugh Grant, though, that some have suggested he might be the rightful successor to Cary as the first real romantic-comedic leading man from England to hit big here in decades and he does precisely what you'd want an ingenuously modest Brit to do: demur.

"Does a romantic leading man still exist, though, in the cinema today? Discuss in not more than 500 words," he says, doubtfully reposing the question. "If we were still in the '50s or '60s . . ."

If we were still in the '50s or '60s, Grant's star might already have risen. The odds aren't terribly lopsided in the '90s, at that. The sleeper comedy that's causing all the commotion, director Mike Newell's "Four Weddings and a Funeral," opens Wednesday, and offers Grant, 33, his first true leading role in a film that has any likelihood of breaking out beyond the art-house circuit. The sweet, sharp farce has him striking up romance with Andie MacDowell in a circuitous route that takes the tentative couple through a "meet-cute" times five, encompassing all the title ceremonies.

He also shares star billing in two other pictures opening in Los Angeles in the next two weeks, albeit in far less sexy, more reactionary parts. He plays the prototypical repressed Brit in two international productions--John Duigan's "Sirens," also opening Wednesday, and Roman Polanski's controversial "Bitter Moon," which opened in Europe a year and a half ago but finally hits here March 18.

These round out the inadvertent homage au Hugh Grant , as he puts it, and make him very probably the only actor going with four feature films out at once--considering that he's still on screens with his small part in "The Remains of the Day," as the grown godson whom Anthony Hopkins strives to teach about the birds, the bees and fishing.

Off-screen as well as on, those charmed by Grant most often mention his likably self-effacing quality.

"I'm gonna get rid of that," he announces, suddenly, when the subject comes up. "I'm going to efface my self-effacing quality, I've decided. It's not a good idea in Hollywood. Too often I've said, 'Oh no, no, please, it's a terrible film, I'm awful in it,' and people have taken me at my word, which is not what they're supposed to do at all. They're supposed to shout me down and say, 'On the contrary, it's excellent, and you're wonderful!"'

Grant's longtime girlfriend, British actress Elizabeth Hurley, who currently lives in L.A., "is furious with me when I do that, furious ," he says. "But I can't believe how people don't do it here. I've had lunches with people I've never met before where they'll say just in passing, 'Yeah, I made a film two years ago which got 14 awards and was called the most exciting film since "Jurassic Park," ' he says, marveling at the gaucheness of it all. "Just in passing they'll blow their own trumpet like that, and maybe that's what you have to do, I don't know."

*

Well, it is amazing how many. . .

"I just want you to know I won the best actor prize in the Venice Film Festival in 1986," he interrupts. (It was for his debut lead in Merchant-Ivory's "Maurice.") "Anyway, do go on."

. . . is amazing, as we were saying, how many unsolicited verbal resumes one collects in Hollywood.

"And I think that's what gives me the creeps a bit here, actually, because I see too much of myself in the people around me, the self-obsession," Grant says. "Conversations you have here, it is literally just 'my turn to talk about myself, your turn to talk about yourself, my turn'--and there's no contact, no one has any interest in anyone else at all unless they can. . . ."

He suddenly hushes. "This is terrible. This is the L.A. Times! What am I doing? What am I doing? I love Hollywood. I've liked everyone I've met," he says, the rather unconvincing last bit muffled by his burying his face in his hands.

He really isn't the first person to have noticed it, we point out, trying to be reassuring.

"No, I know, but it sounds terrible coming from a foreigner. I would hate any foreigner who had the audacity to criticize one single thing about London."

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